Aurora Theatre’s powerful ‘Manahatta’ bridges centuries

L-R, Livia Gomes Demarchi, Max Forman-Mullin, Ixtlán and Anthony Fusco appear in “Manahatta” at Aurora Theatre Co. in Berkeley. (Courtesy Kevin Berne/Aurora Theatre Co.)

“Manahatta,” at Aurora Theatre Co. in Berkeley, takes on a big subject: the violent subjugation of the Lenape people in what is now Manhattan by Dutch settlers in the 17th century and the ensuing development, and fall, of Wall Street.

Mary Kathryn Nagle’s powerful one-act play focuses on a 21st century family of Lenape descendants living in Oklahoma. While daughter Jane Snake, a graduate of Stanford and MIT, has landed a job with Lehman Brothers on Wall Street, the family back home is about to lose their home to foreclosure.

Livia Gomes Demarchi and Anthony Fusco play dual roles in Mary Kathryn Nagle’s “Manahatta.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne/Aurora Theatre Co.)

The production moves between the contemporary family drama as Wall Street collapses in 2008, and 17th century Manahatta, with the actors appearing in both time frames. 

The leader of the Dutch faction (Anthony Fusco) tricks Lenape leader (Linda Amayo-Hassan) into virtually giving away Manahatta. Fusco also portrays Jane’s vicious Wall Street boss and Amayo-Hassan takes the role of Jane’s mother with deft humor.

Livia Gomes Demarchi as Jane, the daughter working on Wall Street as it begins to fail  
(a comparison with the 17th century tulip bubble in Holland when speculation drove flower bulbs’ prices to extremes can be made), carries the story line forward powerfully. 

Jane’s modern friend Luke is excellently portrayed by Ixtlán (an actor with a Native Plains Nations and Mexican Indigenous background). He also plays a pivotal role in the 17th century, as the lover of Jane’s alter ego, and a soulful go-between, interpreting for the Dutch traders and shadowing their cruelties.

Elsewhere in the cast, Max Forman-Mullin is heartless as a trader during both time periods, Victor Talmadge plays a kindlier banker and clergyman.

Linda Amayo-Hassan and Ixtlán appear in “Manahatta.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne/Aurora Theatre Co.)

The actors are all first-rate, and director Shannon R. Davis’ uncomplicated staging and Asa Benally’s period costumes clarify the complications of the shifting eras. 

“Manahatta” is a big call for a small stage, and its cerebral drive at times can swamp the drama, but there is an authenticity and integrity in this production that makes up for its shortfalls. 

“Manahatta” continues through March 10 at Aurora Theatre Co., 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, as well as streams March 5-10. Tickets are $35-$65 at (510) 843-4811 or  

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